Dominic Steele on what is the story behind Introducing God?
I asked my Bible study group whether we should have some sort of evangelistic event. They said no—not unless it was something friendly and gentle, something that involved more than just a one-night shotgun approach, ran over a number of nights, and something which culturally didn’t make them cringe!
At the time, I had been reading Don Carson’s book, The Gagging of God, and thinking about how to do evangelism for postmodern Australians—the majority of people I come in contact with in my ministry to the media. Carson says, “the good news of Jesus Christ is virtually incoherent unless it is securely set into a biblical world view” and that “evangelism might wisely become, increasingly, a subset of biblical theology.” Carson commends Two Ways to Live because it is offering, in contemporary English, something of the Bible’s plot-line as the necessary framework in which to understand the gospel.
I looked around at many of the good courses available but none of them really did all of this. I realised that what I needed was Two Ways to Live told as a long, intimate story. So that’s what we have tried to do.
How does the course work?
It is designed for groups that contain Christians and enquirers, numbering 2 to 100! It is run over seven sessions, with an extra three on a weekend away! The main course is in a social setting, such as over a meal in a club or cafe or church hall. It tries to make the most of multimedia without making it too difficult for the average church to run.
Each session considers just one Bible passage and draws out its theological idea. The distinction of the course is that it provides this biblical theology in secular language. The first session is an introductory one based on Acts 17 and the search for the unknown God. After that, sessions look at God the maker of the world, our declaration of autonomy from him, God’s decision to appoint a king over us, and so forth, through to the gospel of Jesus and then the decision of Revelation 22 to choose one of two ways—to the city or the lake.
That sounds rather hard for twenty first century people to stomach!
Well, the beauty of having a long course is that you develop friendship and trust, so that such an outrageous request—“make a decision between eternal happiness and eternal condemnation”—doesn’t just come out of the blue. It makes sense to ask it because you have already been talking and debating and discussing for seven sessions.
How has it developed over the years you have been doing it?
We are starting with people a long way away from the Christian mind and we have to be realistic about that. First, we get people to see that relationship with God makes a difference to your life; then, the discussion of truth and right/wrong and reality starts to burble up.
We have also had to come to terms with the pragmatism of today's mindset. Our non-Christian friends care about whether something makes a difference to your life—does it work, more than is it true!
People really enjoy themselves! By the end, people have made friends, often had deeper conversations than ever in their lives before, and they don’t want to stop.
Has the idea of a Weekend Away/Escape worked?
Some people were nervous about how it would go taking a mixture of non-Christians and Christians on a weekend away. What would be the expectations? Would it feel like a church houseparty? Would we be able to get people to come? I think the problem has been with our lack of confidence in the idea, rather than in our guests’ willingness to go. If they have been with us for eight nights (which they have so far), and the weekend is going to be fun (which ours have been) then they have been prepared to come.
Basically, my approach has been to think about the kind of weekend you would plan if you really wanted your non-Christian friends to be there. Get the details right. So for example we haven’t had any singing on our weekends away, and in the later ones we haven’t gone to Christian dormitory campsites. If it means wine tasting and staying in motels, do that. Think through whatever is culturally appropriate. The Christians need to bend over backwards to make sure their friends enjoy themselves and don’t feel like they are obliged to join a “Christian culture”. The weekends away have been the most exciting part of the course. We’ve called the weekends “The difference Jesus makes”, because our subject is “what difference does Jesus make to life”, and the content has revolved around Luke 14-16, with a climax on Saturday night looking at the prodigal son.
How do you measure the success you have had with the course?
Under God, the success has been measured in the number of non-Christians who come and then the number who have been come to a personal relationship with God. I don’t mean that in a cold and calculating way; it’s just that people are finding it very easy to invite friends along and many of them—many more than I’ve seen before—are actually coming into relationship with God. Reports back to us from across the world have been indicating that a very high percentage of people who start the course actually come into relationship with God.
I think we may have got the method right for the time and place we are in. I also think that people like the theological structure of Two Ways to Live. Some of the other courses are based on a Gospel and address modernist’s apologetic questions. Introducing God has a different set of goals and I think we are hitting many of them. We say to people “Come and have a walk around inside my worldview—what do you think of it?”
Has Introducing God struggled in any contexts?
I think it struggles when people don’t pay attention to the details. Chappo [John Chapman] says there are four questions to ask yourself when trying to evangelise: was the gospel preached, in understandable categories, with unbelievers present, and in an atmosphere conducive to a response? Introducing God does all four, but special attention needs to be taken to make sure the atmosphere is conducive. For instance, at one golf club dinner, they had fluorescent lights blazing on everyone. Then someone dimmed the lights and it really helped people to focus and listen, and to feel like they were hearing something significant.
It’s not an attempt to manipulate people; rather, it is about taking seriously the fact that people’s environment affects them.
I guess many people will wonder whether this is just the Alpha Course in a different dress.
The sociology is similar—that’s the genius of Alpha. But our content springs from the ‘big picture Biblical narrative’ and Two Ways to Live. Alpha grew out of a confirmation course that was being run at Holy Trinity, Brompton. Alpha makes more assumptions about the spiritual quest of those doing it. We start from much further away from Christ. Also, where Alpha goes on to teach you how to pray and read the Bible, Introducing God is much more about knowing there is a God, knowing that we have declared our autonomy from him—vandalising his world and wrecking our relationship with him—and then working out how we can have a relationship with him again.
Who is going to be able to use this course?
Introducing God is being well received all over the world – but especially here in Australia. It’s being used in small group lounge room contexts, larger settings, and increasingly with just pairs of people sitting down to watch the videos.
It’s for those who don’t just want the “blind date, will you marry me on the first night”-style of evangelism—where people get a huge package of information and challenges on one occasion. Introducing God does evangelism gently, through social settings, over time, and with a lot more to talk about than is possible with a one-off event.
by Greg Clarke